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You think things are bad now?

May 25th, 2019

A glimpse into the next four years (maybe)

Jess Philips had been to Number Ten before but not like this. Not in front of the microphones. Not at the centre of attention. Not as Prime Minister. Yet Prime Minister she was, newly returned from the Palace where the king had asked her to form a government and she’d said yes. Of course she had: for the first time in over a decade, Britain had a clear majority government. For the first time ever, that government would be led by the Democratic Alliance. For the fourth time in succession, and within three years, it would be led by a different party. It had been an amazing few years to witness, if not to live through.

Where did it all start to go wrong? That was a question academics and commentators would ask for decades. Iraq? The Poll Tax? The financial crash? Brexit? Maybe some; maybe all. What was certain was that by the summer of 2019, a very great many people were disillusioned with and disengaged from mainstream politics.

Indeed, some were – briefly at this point – disengaged from politics altogether, which was the least noticed but as it turned out most important of the three extraordinary features of the European elections that year. That the newly-formed Brexit Party won it was anticipated: they’d shot up from nowhere to poll ahead of their rivals about a month before polling day and then remained there. In fact, their 31% was slightly underwhelming after some polls had them well above that, even if it was the biggest share for any party at the EP elections in Britain this century. That the Lib Dems finished second was a bigger shock, albeit one flagged up as possible both in the polls and the local elections three weeks earlier. However the point no-one noticed but which they should have, was just what a tiny fraction of the 2016 Leave vote had backed any of the mainstream parties. Whether lost to abstentions or the Eurosceptic right, it was an ominous sign.

The Tories reacted to the deadlock in Brexit and the collapse in polling by picking Boris Johnson, marking it as unusual in actually endorsing the long-time favourite (in both senses). The defining incident came when he was knocked off his bike by a London bus, after exiting a one-way street the wrong way, which might have finished the chances of a lesser man but in this case both his own reaction to it, and also the cackhanded response of some of his principle rivals convinced Tory members that he was the ideal person to make the best of it. In retrospect, the metaphor was glaringly obvious.

Johnson made clear on taking office that No Deal was very much on the table if Britain couldn’t renegotiate the backstop, and that October really was the deadline: he wouldn’t be asking for any more extensions. The EU, via the polite but firm person of Michel Barnier, said ‘non’, well aware that Theresa May had been forced to request an extension (although she hadn’t been forced to accept the EU’s amended offer).

Summer came and went and though civil servants tried to impress on the PM that No Deal wasn’t just a concept but something that needed legislating for, the concerns were breezily brushed aside as the wifflings of defeatists. Instead, Johnson wrapped himself up in the Union Jack at the party conference and made an entertaining and rousing speech to the hall but one which was fatally incapable of winning support in either Europe or the Commons. It seemed as if No Deal was not just a regrettable possibility but the prime objective.

Corbyn, under pressure from Labour activists and MPs still unhappy with their own poor poll ratings and the loss of the Peterborough by-election by finally conceding the argument on a second EU referendum, a month before the UK was due to leave and one week after the buoyant Lib Dems formally switched their own policy to Revoke. It was too little too late.

Johnson, however, had overplayed his hand. Whereas Cameron and May could answer questions in the House for hour after hour – and Speaker Bercow ensured they did – Johnson’s assertions and lack of detail became weaker as he went on trying to respond to Keir Starmer’s Emergency Debate on No Deal preparations, eventually becoming flustered, irritated and blurting out that No Deal was a bloody good thing, while implicitly insulting the character and patriotism of those opposing it. That was too much for eight Tory MPs, most of whom were already under threat of deselection, who resigned the whip in protest.

That had tipped the balance. Parliament again responded by seizing control of the Commons’ business but this time, not trusting that the Prime Minister would be as biddable as Theresa May had been and well aware that a referendum Bill would be too complex to pass or implement in time, Dominic Grieve introduced the European Union (Revocation of Withdrawal Notice) Bill. Spooked by their haemorrhaging of support to the Lib Dems, Labour backed it, with the result that it passed the Commons by 3 votes, the Lords by substantially more and entered into law. Britain would stay, for now.

Corbyn (or, more accurately, Tom Watson) had, however, extracted a quid pro quo from the smaller parties in return for delivering the Revocation vote: their backing for a new Vote of No Confidence. Those votes were delivered and on November 5, Boris Johnson’s government fell. The Labour leader had argued that he should try to form a government and that even if he failed, there was a good chance that Labour could hold office during the subsequent election campaign. His advisors, however, felt that was too big a risk and that Johnson should be left to take the flak for his failure.

The advice was sound and the election that followed produced some of the most jaw-dropping results in British political history. Corbyn again campaigned hard but wasn’t able to quite capture the mood as in 2017. The country had moved on and the momentum was with the Lib Dems on the one hand, and the Brexit Party – appalled and angry at the betrayal of their 2016 vote – on the other. In between, the Tory vote fell to 14%, the Lib Dems 18%, the Brexit Party 25% and Labour 28%. Labour’s vote, however, was sufficiently lumpy to deliver 291 seats: enough with either the Lib Dems or SNP to form a majority.

The history of Corbyn’s government need not take long in the telling. Not unlike the previous Tory ones, it tried to be far too ambitious for the parliament it was accountable to and failed. It did increase taxes and spending. Unfortunately, it also took office just as the US-China trade war got nasty. Combined with its own crackdown on ‘dirty City money’, it inadvertently triggered a house price crash in London, which spread to the rest of the country and spawned a recession.

Not that that was what caused the government to fall: that was Corbyn’s increasing interest in solving the Middle East Crisis. As the economy at home worsened, pushing McDonnell to make increasingly confiscatory moves, Corbyn interested himself more and more abroad. His Middle East envoy George Galloway (“a man with a unique knowledge of the region”), worked tirelessly across the region’s five-star hotels to bring about reconciliation in Palestine. Remarkably, he achieved it too, persuading both Hamas and Fatah elements to engage in a co-operative process in return for British recognition of the Palestinian state and £2bn a year ‘compensation’ payments for 30 years (the same as the duration of the mandate). Unfortunately, the speeches at the state visit of the Palestinian president got a little out of hand, with the final straw being Corbyn’s refusal to criticise the Palestinian claim to the whole of Israeli land.

The Prime Minister was of course roundly attacked by Farage and the new Tory leader, Dominic Raab (Boris having become the first PM since Balfour to lose his seat), but it was the final unleashing of years of pent-up criticism from his own side that was fiercest. Vitriolic anger poured out, not so much about Corbyn’s (in)action itself but more as a final recognition that the Party was lost to the far left and was never coming back. That weekend, 78 Labour MPs resigned the whip and formed themselves into the Democratic party. The following Wednesday, the Labour government fell.

Whether the defectors would have made their move had they known what the new election would bring must be a moot point. Against the failure to deliver Brexit, the challenging of Britain’s history and values, and the declining economy, Farage’s Brexit Party was going from strength to strength. Sure, it had lost half a dozen MPs to one reason or another but that was to be expected of a new party. By contrast, the Tories, short on cash and on confidence, couldn’t decide whether to ape him or steer for the vacant centre-right. In the end, they tried to do both and confused everybody.

As with Rachmaninov piano concertos or Indiana Jones films, Corbyn’s fourth effort at an election campaign was by far his weakest. With his own record to defend, it was far harder to pass the blame on. Worse, not only had Brexit not gone away, Farage was still making hay on the issue. The official Leader of the Opposition might have been Jo Swinson but it was Farage cutting through the media, appalling some, fascinating others, but getting his blame in time and again for ‘system’ politicians.

It worked, after a fashion. The Conservative Party vote had dwindled into single figures, splitting mostly between Farage as the force on the right, and the two allied centre-left parties, but that was enough, against four parties including the Greens on the left-of-centre to propel the Brexit Party into government.

Unsurprisingly, it failed too – though not after unilaterally triggering Article 50 again. It never had a stable majority and never got beyond slogans. Cutting taxes made little difference to their popularity and within six months, Farage was just another loud-mouthed failure.

They’d been hard years. Big issues had gone unresolved; small issues unaddressed. The economy was a wreck, after two aborted Brexit processes sandwiching a left-wing government. However, the populist storm had finally blown itself out and the Lib Dems and Democrats had united under the DA banner and Jess Philips’ leadership, come through the middle and won the third election in swift succession (the fifth if those of 2015 and 2017 were included). The people were finally ready for something a bit calmer: jobs, education, crime, the NHS. Politics like it used to be.

David Herdson

p.s. These are not predictions as such but I do think everything I’ve written could happen.
p.p.s. Shadsy quoted me an indicative 100/1 on the next four PMs being from different parties. If he were to firm that up, I think there’s some value there.




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The Euro elections – what we know about turnout local authority by local authority

May 24th, 2019

This is a very useful piece of work and will be invaluable on Sunday night when the results come in.

Mike Smithson


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Johnson now evens to succeed TMay as PM

May 24th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

But will he suffer the Tory front-runner curse?

This morning’s announcement by Mrs May that she is Stepping down did not come as a surprise and indeed there has been a lot of activity over her replacement over the past few weeks. On Betfair, the betting exchange where it is punters exchanging bets between themselves not the bookmakers who fix the odds, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London is now evens favourite to be Britain’s next PM after a period when his odds have tightened rapidly.

The only problem he faces, of course, is what has become the curse that afflicts the front runners in Tory leadership races. Apart from Michael Howard in 2003 who was given a coronation the front runner in period leading up to the vacancy has never got it in modern times.

The first Tory leadership election after PB had been founded in 2004 was the one that succeeded Michael Howard’s failure to prevent a third Tony Blair workable majority in 2005. All the long-term money had been on David Davis yet suddenly part, apparently out of nowhere, David Cameron emerged as a serious contender then made a big speech at his Party Conference and thereafter the prospects of DDavis declined.

Johnson has of course being the frontrunner before and was very much expected to succeed David Cameron following his resignation immediately after the referendum in June 2016. For whatever reason, and there have been interesting TV dramatisations, Johnson pull himself out of the race after Michael Gove entered it on that amazing Thursday morning three years ago.

The process, as we are all no doubt very familiar, is that there is a series of ballots amongst CON MPs to draw up a shortlist of 2 to go to the membership. It is here that it is thought that Johnson might struggle and his main worry, I’d suggest, is if another prominent pro brexit here emerges and there are several who who you can see moving into the frame.

Johnson’s reputation is based on the untested notion that he reaches voters that other potential leaders are unable to do. But he’s a bit older now and a reputation for playing the fool might not be the best recommendation for his parliamentary colleagues. He’s also known to be not that clubbable with fellow MPs a characteristic that might prove problematical once the voting starts.

This is, I believe, the first time ever that a prime minister will be chosen by the membership of a party. Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair in 2007 without being troubled by a contest and of course 3 years ago Theresa May got the job when Andrea leadsom, who had also made the final two, pulled out following her controversial comments about being a mother.

Mike Smithson


 



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So TMay finally decides to quit and the race for her successor begins

May 24th, 2019



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The big picture from the turnout figures so far annouced is that the more an area was for Remain the more people voted yesterday

May 24th, 2019

Although there has been no exit or other polling there has been a mass of data from the local authority areas that began verifying the ballots overnight.

The big picture so far is in the headline – there’s a correlation between the percentage of those who voted yesterday and what the area did at the referendum. So far it seems that the more for Leave places were the lower turnout levels there were yesterdsy.

Now we should be careful rushing to judgment here because all we have is data from a relatively small number of council area and, of course, what happened in the referendum. But if a significantly higher proportion of people voted in Remain area that does suggest that the Greens and LDs might be doing well.

There has been no information from London yet – the ballot verifications are taking place in the morning – but I’m increasingly confident that my 7/2 bets on the LDs winning the vote in the capital might be a winner.

The Tweet above is from Ashfield – a strong leave area where the turnout was low in comparison to, say, the 47% in the strong remain city of St Albans.

Mike Smithson




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Frustratingly there’ll be no results or even on the day polls until Sunday at 10pm

May 23rd, 2019


Those used to general elections in the UK and the drama of the exit poll coming out they might get a bit deflated to have reached 10 this evening to find the polls have closed and nothing is happening.

We will have to wait until 10 p.m. on Sunday evening for the first results to come out. This is because of the strict rules about EU elections that no information on voting can be revealed until such time as as until voting in all countries is over.

There’s obviously a lot of anecdotal evidence of what’s been happening today and we could get some harder data about turnout trends from the verification process that is taking this evening of all the ballot papers that were cast. This procedure is monitored by party observers and information can come out.

If turnout is not as high as some had been predicting then which parties will be the beneficiaries and which the losers? My current view, an this might be overtaken by events, is that BRX will benefit most from a highish turnout.

Please share any info you have on the thread below.

Mike Smithson




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The Election day PB / Polling Matters podcast looks at what is going on with the Euro polls

May 23rd, 2019

On this week podcast, Keiran Pedley and Matt Singh discuss the EU election polls and what happens next week.

Listen to the podcast below:

Follow this week’s guests:





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The final poll puts BRX on 35% with the LDs in second place 5% ahead of LAB

May 23rd, 2019

This is much closer to YouGov than other polls

The pollster, Ipsos-MORI, has a long history of trying to be the publisher of the last poll before an election. It does this by finishing its fieldwork on the Wednesday evening and generally it is published in the London Evening Standard on the Thursday.

With this election when so much is fluid this is good time to get a snapshot. The hope is that it will enable the firm to identify late swings and get the very latest sense of where opinion is moving. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

What can be seen from the numbers above is that is that the broad picture is fairly similar to YouGov which was until now the only pollster to have the LDs in second place. It is also the only pollster apart from YouGov to have the Tories in single figures.

This new poll also gives a much lower figure for LAB than other firms apart from YouGov. The 15% LAB share here compares with the 25% from Panelbase and 24% from Kantar and Survation.

A key number is that 52% of those planning to vote Conservative in the European elections said they may still change their mind.

There is at least one on the day survey taking place and we might see that later on this evening after the polls have closed.

Mike Smithson